“How can I get the artists more involved in my church?”
I’ve been asked this question multiple times, perhaps because people know I’m getting a PhD in Christian aesthetics. The inquiry reflects an acknowledgement of a disconnect between the church and its artists, and an awareness that the synergy between the two is not always all it could or should be.
The disconnect might not be clear at first glance. After all, artists routinely participate in Church worship and programs. Musicians have the most visible and consistent involvement, but they’re not alone. As a husband to an exceptionally talented Visual Artist, her talents are frequently utilized to design chalk coffee bar signs, wall murals, and when her phone becomes a constant ring, I know VBS season is soon upon us (*insert horror slasher music here*). Those stage decorations don’t make themselves!
Christian Actors and Actresses get their own moment to shine every year during the Christmas or Easter programs—a lucky few nabbing the coveted roles of Mary or the one of the three wise men, while the others patiently bide their time as sheep and donkeys. Filmmakers are occasionally called upon as well, using their skills to produce a clever announcement video for the senior’s upcoming brunch or the congregational hotdog cookout. And Writers and Dancers…well, they need not apply.
Artists are involved in the church. The disconnect comes with two common denominators in these examples: First, the artistic involvement takes place exclusively inside the Church. Second, the artistically inclined church members are often treated as resources—called upon as needed to contribute to the various ministries and activities within the Church, and then put back into the toolbox until their services are required again. The relationship between the artist and the church has generally flowed in the direction of the artist to the Church.
I think we need to reverse the paradigm.
To channel JFK: “My fellow Christians, ask not what the Artists can do for the Church, ask what the Church can do for the Artists.” Instead of asking how to get more artists to bless the church’s ministries, we should consider how the Church can better bless its artists so that, by extension, they can use their talents to bless their community, culture, and world.
The Calling of the Christian Artist
The first time artists are mentioned by name in the Bible—Bezalel and Oholiab—it’s in the context of a very specific divine calling and appointment (Exodus 31). Artistic ability and creativity are not arbitrary abilities. They are God-given gifts to spread His glory throughout the world. As the church, are we empowering and enabling our artists to be faithful to this responsibility? Or are we stockpiling them for our own sake?
A successful businessman can certainty bless the church through his tithes, and perhaps by serving on the budget committee, but their greatest ministry is their Christian witness in the corporate world.
A family called and trained for foreign missionary work can certainly bless the church by teaching a “missions class” at the church on Wednesday evenings, but their greatest ministry is out on the mission field.
A high school football coach can certainty bless the church by volunteering at its sports camps or as a VBS recreation leader, but their greatest ministry is in the locker room with their players.
Do we have this same mindset with our Artists?
Artists can certainty help put on a spectacular Easter Sunday performance, but do we recognize that their greatest ministry may be outside the walls of the church?
When an aspiring young filmmaker joins the church, is our first thought how to support and equip them so that can be sent out as a godly light in an industry that desperately needs more Christian influence? Or, do we immediately think of all the audio/visual needs that we can assign him to on Sunday mornings? Could it be that today’s pop-culture and art have become so secularized, in part, because the Church has been hoarding all of the gifted Christian artists behind its own walls?
Empowering Christian Artists
I’ve found that while many people bemoan the lack of Christian filmmakers, actors, and actresses in Hollywood, fewer are as passionate about investing in the Christian filmmakers, actors, actresses within their own congregations. If we want to see more of the first, then we can’t neglect the second.
If an artist in your church has a role in a school play—go see it. If they’re playing guitar at a local coffee shop—fill the building to capacity. If they’re selling original artwork at a crafts fair—find a piece that matches your home décor and buy it. If they post a creative video project on YouTube—watch it and then share the link. If we have to ask “what style is it?” or “what genre is it?”, then we’ve already missed the point.
I have a bookshelf full of books in genres I dislike but which were written by budding Christian authors, and a stack of CD’s that certainty aren’t “my jam” and won’t be listened too again any time soon. I paid to support and encourage the artist, not because their art was perfectly “for me.” And it was money well spent.
Simply put, if we’re more stingy in our support of young Christian artists then we are in buying brand name cappuccinos, then we have no right to complain about the godless state of the creative arts in our world today. Empower the change today that we want to see tomorrow.
Final Food For Thought
So, should Artists have a role in the Church? Absolutely. Most are thrilled to do so. This has never been the problem. What has sometimes been lacking is the commitment that the church should also have an active role in the work and life of the artists. To be clear, this conviction isn’t born from a bitterness of how “the Church” got it wrong. The complete opposite. I’ve seen firsthand the power the comes when the Church has gotten it right, and I see the amazing potential if more artists were encouraged as I have been. The Church can be an incredible, empowering force that sends a tidal wave of creative Christian artists into a culture that’s in desperate need for hope and a fresh perspective…but it starts with encouraging and equipping the artists that are already sharing our Sunday morning pews.
*I’m aware that, as a Christian author, this blog might seem rather self-serving. If you feel led to encourage a Christian artist this week (and I hope you do), don’t pick me. I’ve received plenty of support already. Go seek out someone who hasn’t been as fortunate. A little encouragement can go a long, long way.*